This history of Dunsfold was written by A J A Hollins, the son of the Rev. Arthur Hollins, who became the Rector of Dunsfold in 1915. A very old typescript copy was supplied by the late Mary Lucey, who was the daughter of The Rev Percy Denham, Rector of Dunsfold in the 1940s to mid 1950s.
The original transcript was a poor copy, with parts barely legible and many typing errors. Some editing was therefore necessary but I have kept the changes to a minimum to preserve the wonderful language used by Mr Hollins.
Although Mr Hollins did not like footnotes I could not resist adding a few short ones!
People have lived in and near Dunsfold since the Stone Age and there is a wealth of information about the way our village grew and how our ancestors conducted their lives. In this section we will be presenting this history as a story through the ages; but this is a large project and what follows is only a glimpse of the information which is available. We intend to build upon this initial sketch of the development of Dunsfold drawing upon the archives already available to us but we hope that people in the village will come forward with further old records of the past to fill out this account of our heritage.
The earliest records of people living in our area are of the Stone Age men who dwelt on the top of Winkworth Hill. They were hunters using stone and flint implements made from material gathered on the chalk downs above Guildford. There was little to attract them to live in the forests of the Weald. However ultimately they were driven down into the Weald by the cleverer and better armed Bronze Age men coming from the valleys of the Wey and the Thames. These Ancient Britons almost certainly had a burial ground near the present site of Dunsfold church.
The Romans followed the Ancient Britons and had an equal dislike of the forests. They built their roads around the northern margins of the Weald from Blackdown to Hascombe and beyond, although the remains of one road can be traced from Chiddingfold through High Street Green to the Mill at Dunsfold. From there the route is obscure but it could have carried on past the cricket ground and Common House to Alfold Crossways. Any settlement which had developed by that time in the Dunsfold area would still have been primitive and probably comprised little more than a few simple circular wooden cottages roofed with bark or heather thatch.
The Saxons came after the Romans. They arrived as piratical warriors but eventually settled into a peaceful co-existence with the Britons and became known as the Anglo-Saxons. Their influence on our history is marked by many place and family names of Saxon derivation. The name Dunsfold itself comes from the Saxon words “dun” (a hill) and “fold” (an enclosure).
Enclosures were not so much temporary fenced areas as large spaces bounded by substantial earthen dykes and ringed by heavy wooden palisades. The cottages were inside the enclosure which was big enough to hold all the villagers’ cattle overnight. Around the enclosure was a cleared area of land used for grazing and growing crops, the origin of the common in Dunsfold. In those days there was no individual ownership of land; all belonged to the village in common with every freeman having the right to a certain amount of pasturage and tillage.
By 900 a.d. King Alfred was Lord of the Manor of Godalming the boundaries of which extended out towards Dunsfold. Until the Norman Conquest, and for some time after, Dunsfold itself had no manor. Bramley was one of the largest and most powerful manors in Surrey and owned great tracts of this still virtually uninhabited Wealden forest. Neither Dunsfold nor Alfold are recorded in Domesday and it was not until the 12th Century when ironstone was found in the region that settlement of our area started to grow.
A Norman chapel stood on the site of the old Saxon burial ground and there is evidence that pilgrims came to Dunsfold to visit the Holy Well. This chapel was destroyed, though how is unclear, and the building of our present church was largely completed between 1270 and 1290. Its nave pews are said to be the oldest in Britain with rough carved ends like a bull’s horns with balls on the points. They survive with little change since they were first hewn for the original building.
Within the archives of our part of Surrey from around the end of the 12th Century, Burningfold is mentioned more frequently than other names and this was probably the oldest manor in the district though still a dependency of Bramley. Its name discloses its connection with the charcoal industry which was centred about here and spread around the Weald based on the abundance of timber available. The middle of the 14th Century brought the start of much higher standards of building replacing wattle and daub with stout timber framing (again locally abundant) and brick construction. Chimneys were a vast improvement on a hole in the roof.
Charcoal was important initially to supply the iron industry which continued to develop over the next two centuries. By the16th Century three ironworks were listed in Dunsfold and another at Durfold. The industry further expanded to meet new demands from the government gunpowder works at Dunsfold and the glassmakers in Alfold and Chiddingfold. In 1325, glass was made in Chiddingfold for St. Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor.
It is probable that much of the produce from Dunsfold and the surrounding villages was transported down the River Arun together with timber for shipbuilding at Littlehampton on the coast. “Yonder Lye” (see picture), so named as being the homestead furthest from the church, owes its great beams to a return cargo of old ship’s timbers from a wrecker’s yard on the coast. The old cottage which forms the east end of this ancient house has fire dogs and a fire-back dated 1599 and 1619.
The central part of Dunsfold lying along the west side of the Common contains many styles of building from the 17th Century to recent times and further afield large country houses dot the landscape. Some are ancient but some date from the 17th Century when wealthy Londoners fled from the Capital to escape the dangers of the Great Plague. Around the church, a small group of substantial houses were built during this 17th Century period of expansion, including the old rectory and one which is believed to have been an inn.